Time to get in the Zhone

Formed last September, Zhone Technology is attacking the telecom market from an unusual direction – the last mile of the network. The local loop is notoriously expensive to provision and manage, and Zhone plans to carve itself a niche with products to make the last mile a smoother road for carriers and service providers.

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By  Jon Tullett Published  November 27, 2000

Formed last September, Zhone Technology is attacking the telecom market from an unusual direction - the last mile of the network. The local loop is notoriously expensive to provision and manage, and Zhone plans to carve itself a niche with products to make the last mile a smoother road for carriers and service providers.

At the core of Zhone’s strategy is the SLMS architecture. The Single Line Multi-Service concept describes a market in which carriers and service providers can consolidate copper, fibre, and coaxial physical loop plants into a single integrated infrastructure supporting multiple transport options and multiple services with a common management model.

“Consolidation at the core has simplified the management burden for long-haul carriers, while the introduction of new technologies in the local loop has left incumbent and competitive local exchange carriers managing multiple physical networks,” said Jeanette Symons, vice president and chief technology officer of Zhone Technologies.

“To compound the problem, each different transmission network delivers its own discrete set of services and comprises products from multiple vendors, each with their own management system. Carriers want to migrate to an integrated solution that allows them to provision every service across every transmission medium, with unified management and billing.”

Mory Ejabat, CEO of Zhone, says: “The core has changed a lot. You’ve got voice, video and data, you have IP, Frame Relay and ATM; all these have converged into a multi-service network. In the last two to three years ASPs have been getting access to the multi-service core. We chose not to get into the core or into the ASP market, so we settled on the local loop.”

Ejabat points out that carriers are not concerned with physical media (apart from managing the cost), but are instead focussed on getting services out to customers as fast as possible to generate revenue.

Fundamentally, service providers are in the game to be profitable as well as deliver services. The very high costs of managing the local loop are a factor of the cost of medium deployment and management complexity.

Traditionally, a single line has delivered a single voice or data service. Recent advances in broadband technologies have allowed a single line to support double service, such as voice and data or television and data.

Providers can reap even greater revenues if a single line can support multiple services, as Zhone’s strategy decrees. A combination of competitive deployment in the local loop as well as aggressive service rollout in incumbent markets has resulted in increased complexity in both regulated and deregulated markets.

Distribution nodes house segregated data networking, broadband access and service-delivery systems alongside legacy voice and data equipment.

To support all types of services, carriers must provide, manage, diagnose and bill for services across multiple types of equipment from multiple vendors. The increasing complexity of the support infrastructure thus becomes a business bottleneck to carriers wanting to expand their subscriber base or service portfolio.

In full deployment, the SLMS architecture promises multi-transport, multi-service integration through the cooperative efforts of multiple components distributed across a carrier’s regional network and managed from the centralised Network Operations Centre (NOC).

In reality, components will more likely be laid out in specific deployment areas by carriers, with integration coming slowly, but Zhone has made sure to cater for that with an open management approach to integrate existing solutions with its own products.

That management environment is the Zhone Management System (ZMS), an end-to-end management system that configures and controls every element in the local-loop network architecture, down to the subscriber level.

The ZMS offers a unified, standards-based interface to existing carrier Operations Support Systems (OSS) for flow-through accounting and billing capabilities. The idea is to reduce provider costs while increasing available services and provisioning intervals.

When used with Zhone’s family of access and aggregation components, ZMS offers carriers automated configuration and offers end users Provisioning-on-Demand.

Eric Presworsky, assistant VP of product strategy, describes a facility for customers to connect to a web page, select new services, and have the architecture automatically configure the infrastructure for provision immediately, with no need for service calls or medium rollout. Integration into billing and SLA environments is an important element of that service, he says.

Under the ZMS scope, carriers can configure and manage each element in the network by device, port, line card, service, or customer. Presworsky describes possible fail-over scenarios where the customer defines which services to carry over to a backup line in the event of outage on the primary connection. Maximum flexibility and ease of use with a minimum overhead is the Zhone message. “We make the entire local loop look like a single device,” he says.

“Carriers have begun to realise enormous benefits and operational efficiencies resulting from the unified management of their core networks,” said Allan Jennings, vice president and general manager of management systems at Zhone. “Extending these same benefits to the local-loop networks is a more formidable task and will yield even greater cost savings.”

The ZMS consolidates management, provisioning, and billing of broadband voice and data services over any transport medium, allowing carriers to eliminate the growing hodge podge of individual element management systems and the accompanying OSS integration headaches that go with them.”

The ZMS is the first local-loop management system that supports both traditional and emerging voice and data services over any transport medium, including twisted pair copper, fibre, coaxial cable, and wireless.

While carriers in the past have been forced to integrate disparate network element management systems into their OSS to provision, test, and manage multi-service networks, the ZMS brings all management operations together to present a single interface to the OSS. With the ZMS, carriers can provision, monitor, and manage their entire multi-service local-loop infrastructure, down to the subscriber level, from a single console.

Carriers can use the ZMS to manage traffic from Zhone, third-party Integrated Access Devices (IADs), or DSL Access Multiplexers (DSLAMs). Zhone’s own networking components integrate the functionality of several network devices such as Digital Loop Carriers (DLCs), DSLAMs, Digital Access Cross-Connect Systems (DACSs), subscriber Management Systems (SMSs), data multiplexers, IP routers, edge switches, and voice gateways, giving the company insight into the management requirements for the entire gamut of communications equipment and services to terminate, aggregate, groom, and integrate traffic from the subscriber to the network edge.

The ZMS uses a common set of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) across all network elements to greatly simplify network expansion while enhancing quality of service. As carriers add Zhone network elements into their architectures, the ZMS automatically integrates these devices into the ZMS system. The APIs also ensure backward compatibility, so carriers can perform future upgrades without bringing down network elements.

Zhone’s architectural approach pushes management information up to the ZMS. This approach improves overall network performance because there is very little polling of individual devices. Since new Zhone devices won’t require network managers to learn or integrate additional management systems, the ZMS enables faster and easier network scaling with lower personnel costs.

The Broadband Access Node (BAN) is the Zhone’s first major infrastructure component, serving as a single provisioning and management system for voice, data, and content services. The BAN allows providers to provision any network service on demand, without costly and time-consuming truck rolls.

In contrast, other vendors are starting to offer combination platforms, usually by integrating multiple products into a single chassis. That approach will provide competition to Zhone, but Ejabat says the market has a long way to go yet, mostly taking the
form of existing products bundled together.

That is a flawed approach, he says, pointing out that the existing integration difficulties will still occur, and ongoing flexibility will be seriously curtailed.

Getting services to work in the lab is hard enough, adds Presworsky. “You have all levels of devices and manage-ment You build it once in the lab, and the rollout is a nightmare.”

Zhone is putting its money where its mouth is on that score; having spent US$30 million on a test lab, complete with exchange switches, ATM and IP switches and other telecom equipment, to perform thorough simulation tests of their platforms during development.

“Service providers are facing a Catch-22 situation today,” said Jeanette Symons, vice president and chief technology officer of Zhone Technologies.

“Customer demand for new services is extreme, but each new service requires the provider to add a single- function, piece-part element to its network: Class Five switches for voice, T1 or E1 aggregation devices for leased-line services, DSLAMs and subscriber management systems for broadband.

"Thus, as service sales increase, providers are seeing their margins decrease. By combining voice, data, and content service provisioning and management into a single solution, the BAN increases service flexibility and improves service delivery while reducing network overhead.”

The BAN incorporates a DSLAM, voice gateway, and subscriber management functionality and provides any-in, any-out support for up to three boxes per seven-foot rack at 2.3 Mbps each. It interfaces to the Class Five switch in a central office using proven GR-303 or V5-2 technology to provide cost-effective, native support for legacy voice services. With the BAN, providers can offer POTS voice, packet voice, and data over a single line.

The BAN also supports both voice over IP (VoIP) and voice over ATM (VoATM) on a single interface card. By enabling providers to switch easily between transport models, the BAN serves the greatest number of customers with the smallest possible footprints.

The BAN serves as a line aggregation and termination platform and can be used in single Point-of-Presence (POP) or Central Office (CO) implementations, or in distributed network deployments. In single-POP deployments, the high-density, multi-service BAN maximises service provider revenues and ensures fastest time to market. Adding a new service is as simple as clicking a mouse.

As providers scale their networks, they simply connect new channels directly to the BAN, eliminating older, less-efficient network elements; saving valuable CO rack and floor space; and enabling flow-through provisioning.

In large-scale deployments, the BAN works in conjunction with Zhone’s Multi-Access Loop Carrier (MALC) devices to provide distributed access to local-loop services. While the MALC aggregates and grooms traffic for DS-3 or OC-3 backhaul to regional data centres, the BAN performs translation services (voice compression, protocol translations, and network gateway services), IP termination services, and subscriber management services.

Zhone’s Multi-Access Loop Carrier (MALC) will ship in multiple physical forms, depending on the geography and infrastructure of the network it terminates; twisted-pair copper, fibre, coaxial cable, or wireless. In large-scale deployments, the MALC will provide distributed access to local-loop services.

Acting as a slave to the BAN, the MALC aggregates and grooms traffic for DS-3 or OC-3 backhaul to regional data centres. There the BAN performs translation services, IP termination services, and subscriber management services.

For any further information please visit the Zhone Technologies web site: www.zhone.com

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